Avoiding echoes in writing

While I don’t pretend to be an expert writer (yet), I’ve certainly learned a fair number of ways to write better and a lot more ways to avoid writing worse.  One writing goober that befuddled me early on was inadvertent writing echoes.

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For writing, an echo is not a yodel bouncing off a distant mountain, rather a repeat of a word or sound that jars the reader.  Some examples:

  • The repetition of a common word in close proximity, especially if used in the same position in a sentence or paragraph.  Common examples are the use of the word “I” or “she/he” to begin consecutive sentences or paragraphs.  obviously this will happen from time to time even in good writing, so in this case it’s about frequency of occurrence.  Using a character’s name too often is also a common example, even if not in the same sentence position.
  • The repetition of an uncommon word, especially in unrelated contexts, even if not in close proximity.  “I really liked Steven’s umber eyes” followed three paragraphs later by “The spaceship was the color of burnt umber…”  The reader will jar at this.  Of course if this is an important clue that Steven is an alien that may be ok, but otherwise pick a different color.
  • Echoes of related sounds can also be distracting, homophones or even inadvertent rhymes. “Our hotel room is a mess. Are you going to clean it?” or “Jack plays better when he is in the zone. Oops, I need to answer the phone.”

For a good discussion on this topic, and many other writing issues, I strongly recommend Noah Lukeman’s classic, The First Five Pages. My copy is very dog-eared.

Keep on writin’.

CR Hodges

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4 Responses to Avoiding echoes in writing

  1. Pingback: Self-Editing Tips: Part 1 | Author Sharon K Miller's Blog

  2. I had heard this by an author giving advice to beginning writers and didn’t have a clue. I think sometimes an echo can be used as prose but in the example you give, no. Thanks

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